Supported by transform! europe once again, the fourth edition of The World Transformed (TWT), the most well-known and well-attended left-wing political festival in the UK, raised some very important questions for the left, acting as an example in terms of the methods applied. A report by Haris Golemis and Angelina Giannopoulou.
TWT takes place every year alongside the Labour Party Conference to establish a connection between traditional party politics and the newly born movement surrounding the Labour Party’s radical renaissance and Corbyn’s leadership. This year’s edition hosted 180 sessions, workshops, art events, panels, parties and policy labs at 14 different venues across town. transform! europe was once again an official partner of the festival but also of TWT365, the long-term project for political education initiated this year by the organisers of The World Transformed.
Together with TWT, transform! europe also co-organised two very successful sessions, one under the title Economy for the Many, with John McDonnell as one of the main speakers, and the other under the title How We Win the Next Elections.
Specifically, the first session, Economy for the Many, played host to Faiza Shaheen (Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies – CLASS), Rafeef Ziadah (Palestinian-Canadian human rights activist and lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East at SOAS University), Asad Rehman (Executive Director of War on Want) and Gracie Mae Bradley (Policy and Campaigns Manager for Liberty). The speakers’ proposals can be summarised as follows:
- Reorganisation of the pension system. Under the present system, one million retired people live in severe poverty in the UK.
- Attempt to tackle the problem of insecure work. Under this framework, zero-hour contracts, which currently employ more than one million people, mainly from the younger generation, would be abolished.
- Legal imposition of a minimum wage of 10 pounds per hour.
- Large increase in public investment.
- Renationalisation of public utilities, with worker participation and democratic control.
- 'Green Industrial Revolution', financed by increased taxation of the rich and the introduction of green bonds.
- Establishment of think tanks for targeted research and political education, so that progressive ideas achieve Gramscian hegemony among the people.
- Establishment of the International Social Forum as a permanent event, following the success of its inauguration in July this year. In this context, parties but also trade unions and social movements should aim to change or even replace existing global institutions, among other things.
Simultaneously, the speakers looked into class, race and ethnicity in great depth. Some extremely interesting issues were raised, including the role of the state in segregating the working class, the Labour Party’s migration policy, the need to dismantle the war economy, cultural issues concerning the multi-ethnic working class and the creation of the British Empire through colonial exploitation.
The How We Win the Next Elections session presented Becka Hudson (researcher and campaigner on criminalisation and anti-fascism), Becky Bond (co-founder of the radical consultancy The Social Practice and former senior advisor to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign), James Meadway (economist, former advisor to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell), Ali Milani (Muslim Iranian immigrant, Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson’s constituency) and Owen Jones (Guardian columnist and author). It was an event that aimed to encourage supporters of the Labour Party to fight door to door for a victory in the elections, whenever these will take place, ignoring the unfavourable opinion polls. Among the many intriguing issues that were touched upon, the following were perhaps the most interesting:
- The danger that Johnson's 'law and order' dogma is embraced by voters. Labour must try to deconstruct it by showing that the police do not guarantee security and that what is needed is the elimination of the social reasons behind criminal activities.
- The need to avoid alienating the 'middle classes' while retaining the Labour Party’s radicalness as expressed in its programme. A way to do this would be to show people that Labour politicians care for their needs and 'live like them', and that Tory policies do not in fact promote their interests.
- The similar need to attract the votes of both young people and pensioners. This is a difficult but feasible task. In any case, the priority lies in votes from the younger generation.
- The problem of high abstention among youths. One way to fight this could be to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 years old.
- The importance of political education, starting in schools.
- What is needed to win the elections is organisation and mobilisation. 8% of the 500,000 Labour Party members should start 'knocking on doors' to discover people’s needs and urge them to speak to them in order to participate in the elections. Generally, the party must be active in the community at all times. This is necessary even after taking office.
- One reason for Corbyn’s popularity is his anti-imperialism. Labour must maintain this stance as people are sick and tired of wars.
- Socialism is once again a legitimate aim, as can be seen from Sanders’ campaign for the 2016 primaries of the Democratic Party.
- A cultural war is taking place in Britain. Labour should embrace this war as Sanders did during his campaign.
- The need for redistribution not only of wealth but also of power. 'Give power to the people.'
- The need for parties to modernise and establish ties with independent groups.
Besides the panel discussions, transform! europe co-organised a workshop structured as a training session on political education together with TWT and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The Political Education Transformed workshop served as a pilot for a series of training sessions within the framework of TWT365, which are planned to take place within the year. Training aims to educate the educators, and, to this end, the participants were people who had previously expressed their interest in the topic of political education and how an individual and/or organisation can run its own political education event. Training sessions are the result of a decentralisation perspective in terms of political work, particularly where there is increased interest from grassroots organisations to be actively involved in a Labour Party win and government. The audience was very diverse in terms of age, political background and experience, and this was the main reason why the questions did not go deeper. However, in similar sessions/workshops with more homogenised groups of participants, content can reach higher levels of political understanding, and people are able to debate more controversial and complex topics.
The workshop also represented an opportunity for TWT to present the Digital Hub, a critical aspect of the TWT365 project that we are also supporting. The Digital Hub is a platform for political education. Besides being a digital library with a range of existing educational resources for left-wing political education initiatives, it will host tailor-made workshops and programmes that organisers can use to hold their own events and courses. The hub will also provide organisers with toolkits to develop their own 'socialist clubs' or run standalone events.
One of the most exciting aspects of The World Transformed festival was not the variety of topics discussed, or the huge participation and attendance, but the way each and every event, session, panel, workshop and lab was organised and structured. The organisers chose to devote a significant amount of their time and energy to structuring the events in participatory, innovative, democratic and appealing ways. This is a lesson to be learnt by all of us as members of the political left who also organise events and debates. It teaches us to go beyond the old-fashioned keynote speeches and panel discussions, where the audience usually has a passive role rather than being an influential actor in the debate and in the outcome of the event.